During our crossing we saw a migrating whale. It was trying to escape all the attention that its huge body and tall spouts created. Several boats and jet skis raced out to observe the whale, but it kept moving further and further away.
Then we spent a very casual afternoon exploring Catalina with a golf cart. We went up and down the steep hills to some great views , the Wrigley Memorial, and had a late lunch by the waterfront. It was a very relaxing day for us, away from the hustle and bustle of our lives.
Photo Gallery from Catalina
At the end of 2002, Jana was looking for a new car, as her current lease was up this year. We looked at several car makers, and decided on a VOLVO S60 2.4T. In addition to being a safe, reliable, comfortable and fun car to drive, VOLVO's Overseas Delivery Program was attractive to us. It allowed us to order the car through our local dealer and pick it up at the VOLVO factory. In addition VOLVO provided us with 2 free airline tickets and a night stay at the Radisson in Gothenburg.
So, here we are, at the VOLVO Factory Delivery Center with Jana's new car . At first, we were hoping that VOLVO made a mistake and this car would be ours, but after taken a first look at her new car, Jana fell in love with it .
Although VOLVO offered us lunch and a factory tour in the afternoon, we wanted to get going on our whirlwind tour through Europe. And we wanted to give the new car a thorough introduction to the real world out there, not the sheltered factory life. And what a real world it was. Scandinavia had one of the coldest springs in a while, and when we arrived it was freezing cold, snowing and icy rain. So, we tried to get out of there as fast as possible.
But before we left the cold, we stopped in Denmark and its capital Copenhagen. Our first stop, after crossing from Sweden to Denmark via a 20-minute ferry, was Kronborgslot (Castle of Kronborg) . It is said that this castle was Shakespeare's inspiration for "Hamlet". Although he had never been for a visit, Shakespeare was influenced by the legends of his days. This castle was used by Danish kings to collect tolls from ships crossing between Sweden and Denmark on their way to the rich cities of Northern Germany and the Baltic Sea.
Photo Gallery from Kronborgslot
After spending a couple of hours at Kronborgslot, we continued our journey to Copenhagen. We stayed for a couple of nights at the Marriott, where the staff was very friendly and helpful. We received a very nice room, with a great view (unfortunately the weather was still not very nice).
The next day we explored Copenhagen. We walked from our hotel to the city hall, took a quick peak at the world-famous Tivoli amusement park (which we visited in the evening), down to the canals in the harbor, and watched the changing of the guards at the Royal Palace. The Marbled Cathedral, Churchill Park, and the Little Mermaid (inspired by the Christian Anderson story) were also on our list of attractions. After a short rest at the hotel we returned to the Tivoli where we had dinner and rode some of the old-style merry-go-rounds and roller coasters.
Photo Gallery from Copenhagen
The following day we left Copenhagen and drove south towards Germany. We crossed from Denmark to Germany with another ferry, and as the weather got better and better, we decided to have lunch in Hamburg . After lunch and another few hours of driving, we arrived in .
The same evening, we had a great Italian dinner in a historic warehouse. Well, nearly all houses in downtown Amsterdam are historic warehouses, as we learned the next day on our canal tour. We also strolled the streets of Amsterdam, and in addition to historic houses had to visit the unique Red Light District. Since it is not advisable to take pictures there at night, we can only present pictures we took the next day - which is all the better, unless we wanted to restrict our website to adults only.
After a quick tour of Amsterdam in the morning, we visited "miniature Holland" at Zaanse Schans. A large area has been setup and preserved to showcase traditional Dutch sights and activities. Windmills, drawbridges, cheese, wooden shoes, and canals - all elements were present here. We spent a couple of hours here, but another one of Jana's favorite sights in Holland called.
In the afternoon, we visited De Haar Castle. It is one of the best preserved castles in the Netherlands, and is used to this day as a summer entertainment residence by its owners. During the time that the family is not staying at the castle, it is open for tours, and so we took one.
Photo Gallery from Amsterdam, Zaanse Schans and De Haar Castle
Keukenhof was one of the main attractions for Jana . The world-famous tulip festival is held here every year in spring. Millions of tulips, daffodils, and many other flowers are exhibited. It is definitely advisable to visit in the mornings and on weekdays, as we saw long lines of people and cars when we exited.
It was a beautiful spring day, and we walked through all the various gardens, including an old-style green maze , the and expositions that Keukenhof offered. Unfortunately, this spring had been unusually cold, and most of the tulips in the outdoor gardens were not open. Jana was somewhat disappointed, but the smells and colors of the other flowers somewhat made up for the closed-up tulips.
Photo Gallery from Keukenhof
After visiting the flowers at Keukenhof we drove into Belgium, and spent two days in Antwerp and Bruges. We could not have found a better place to stay. The Hilton in Antwerp was right in the middle of Antwerp's old town. The small, one-way streets made it a little challenge to get to the parking garage every time, but being able to stroll through historic plazas and rows of medieval houses made it all worthwhile.
We spent the afternoon in Antwerp by exploring the inner city. At first, we took a horse-drawn carriage ride around town. Then we explored some of the sights by foot. We visited the cathedral and the town's first castle . From there we saw some older houses , not realizing that one of them would serve as the drop off point for Jana's car a couple of days later. That evening we sat outdoors at a Greek restaurant that served excellent food, and the service was very personable.
The following day, we visited the medieval town of Bruges. The inner city has been preserved over many centuries, as it had stayed virtually untouched from any fires or wars. One of Bruges' main attraction was the town's Belfry . We climbed the 360+ steps, which started off being very wide, and got narrower and narrower, so that you had to squeeze against the walls to let people pass. But the reward was a spectacular view of the inner city .
After this exercise, it was time for a little less strenuous sight seeing, and so we hopped onto one of the frequent canal tours. We passed under very old bridges and saw most of the inner city attractions. Another, important element of the visit to Bruges was the need to shop for Christmas ornaments at the Käthe Wohlfahrt store .
That evening, we were also very happy to be able to meet with our friends Bettina and Daniel , who drove from Brussels to have dinner with us. It had been nearly 18 months since we last saw each other, and we had a great time at a very good Italian restaurant.
Photo Gallery from Antwerp and Bruges
Unfortunately, we had to drop the car off a couple of days earlier than planned due to Easter holidays in Germany. Marc's mom drove to Antwerp and picked us up for our last stop on our tour: Marc's family in Germany.
We took a scenic drive through the Ardennes in eastern Belgium, crossed over into Germany near Trier and made our way to Stuttgart. When we arrived, we were greeted by Leoni , Marc's niece, who had grown up to be an outgoing, energetic girl. The next day, we just played around , and Leoni tried on clothes that we brought along . She will also be the flower girl at our wedding, and we had the flower girl dress with us for her to try on . She loved it, and Anke had to hide it very quickly, so that it stays in good shape for the wedding. Luckily for us, her friend Dennis was there, so that her attention could be diverted from the dress.
The last day of our visit was Good Friday, and the family (Anke, Marc's mom, Lars, Marc and Jana) decided to move the Easter celebrations forward. So, we got up in the morning and started hunting for Easter eggs . But in this case, the Easter eggs were presents for all of us, although mostly for Leoni who had a lot of fun looking for them. She got her own personal suitcase for her trip to America and her first big-girl bike (with no training wheels!).
In the afternoon, our friends Marcus and Gigi came to visit with their daughter Kim . After a short introductory period, the two girls started playing together as if they had known each other all their lives . We all sat down for coffee and cake, when Marc's aunt and uncle stopped by unexpectedly, and Marc's dad Frank also returned early from his ski vacation to spend some time with us. It became a large outdoor garden fest . The festivities ended in a scooter race down the street .
Photo Gallery from Easter Celebrations
We were sad to return from our whirlwind tour across 5 countries, but we were happy to be able to see our family and some of our friends.
Now, we are simply waiting for Jana's car to arrive in the United States and that we receive the call from our dealer "Your car is here".
In April, our friend Jim organized an outing to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) with us and our friends Vicky and James. A special exhibit for Ansel Adams' 100th birthday and "Sargent in Italy" were shown at the museum. We also took a general museum tour, walked through the permanent Japanese exhibits and went to lunch at the country's first "Marie Callendar's" restaurant on LA's Magical Mile. In between the museum and the restaurant are the La Brea Tar Pits, where many fossiled bones have been unearthed. It was funny to find such a prehistoric place in between the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles.
Photo Gallery from LACMA
For Thanksgiving, we decided that it was time to explore our nearby tourist attraction - Los Angeles. We booked ourselves into the Beverly Hills Hilton and took a tour of all the major tourist attractions in the "City of the Angels".
Photo Gallery from Los Angeles Trip